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Leveson charter and Aus ‘human right’ not to be offended

  • September 9th, 2013

Tony Abbott is refreshing. His many truisms deeply offend the cultural elite.

Among them was the observation that it is ridiculous to suggest that you could have free speech so long as it doesn't hurt people's feelings.

So the change of government in Australia will see amendment of section 18C of their Racial Discrimination Act which prohibits remarks that offend others on grounds of race or ethnicity. At least until the clerical left next take power, Austrailia may be spared the spectacle of their government spending millions to prosecute people for exercising a  right as fundamental as quoting from the Koran in support of their argument that Islam is pernicious.

But that advance does not  outweigh the risk to free speech represented by the British Establishment's siezure of the opportunity presented by the division and hypocrisy in the media response to the hacking 'scandal'. If Britain muzzles it's media, the world's longest standing media freedom "light on a hill" will be obscured.

The following excerpts from comment by the UK Libertarian Alliance on the Proposed Royal Charter to Regulate the Press (2013) remind us of the significance of the current trends:

Since the expiry of the Licensing Act in 1695, there has been no statutory regulation of the press in England. Instead, the press has been regulated by private or public actions through the ordinary courts of law. This is not to say that we have enjoyed complete freedom of the press during the past three hundred years. The laws of seditious and blasphemous libel were, until about the middle of the 19th century, serious curbs. Since then, the various Obscene Publications Acts, and the Official Secrets Acts, and the modern laws against “hate speech,” have continued to keep the press imperfectly free. Throughout the entire period, until this year’s Defamation Act, there has also been the law of common libel. The Libertarian Alliance deplores all of these constraints.

What the absence of direct regulation means, however, is that no one has needed any kind of registration to start a print publication, or to submit to any jurisdiction over its contents except that of the ordinary courts of law. Therefore, if they have wanted to close down any publication, or simply to determine its contents or tone, the authorities have had to take action in open court, in front of judges and juries over whom they have had little control, and proceeding by a reasonably impartial rule of law.

The Royal Charter currently proposed will bring the press under the same formal control as the broadcast media. Unless they want to risk discriminatory libel awards, newspapers will have to register themselves. They will have to submit to various extra-legal codes of conduct. There will be review and complaints procedures from articles already published. The whole process will be managed by an organisation run by trusted members of the Establishment and staffed by reliable clients of the Establishment. Vast salaries will be paid to those at the top. These will be funded by what amounts to a tax payable – as is presently the case with the BBC licences fee – disproportionately by the poorest buyers of newspapers.

This organisation will, by formal adjudications – though more often by secret pressure – ensure compliance of the press with the current ruling class ideology. Today, this is political correctness. Thirty years ago, it would have prevented rational discussions of homosexuality and other alternative lifestyles. No one can say what might be the ruling class ideology a generation from now. All we can say for sure is that the press will be forced to bow to that ideology, whatever it is.

A further effect of the proposed scheme of regulation is that it will enable the rich and well-connected to avoid public discussion of their wrong-doings. A regulated press might not have been able to reveal the nature and extent of the abuse of expenses by Members of Parliament, or to entrap senior politicians into promises of corrupt service behind the scenes, or to reveal as lies most of the claims that propelled us into the Iraq War. We have a right to know how those exercising power over us behave in private. This obviously means their breaches of the criminal law. It also means their hypocrisies and general breaches of the moral law.

We are told the current proposals are justified by the scandals revealed in the Leveson Inquiry – telephone hacking, leaking of confidential information by the police and so forth. However, all the abuses revealed were already crimes. Without any change in the law, there have been prosecutions, and people have been sent to prison. Rather than a new law, capable of achieving far more than we are assured is needed, we simply need the existing laws to be properly enforced. At least since the 1980s, the custom has emerged of responding to every scandal or misfortune with new laws. This is a bad custom that has led us far towards a police state. Where freedom of the press is concerned, the time has surely come to stop and consider how the undoubted abuses of certain newspapers can be corrected without a Royal Charter that will, sooner or later, become the warrant for a general scheme of press censorship.


  • A colleague
  • September 9th, 2013
  • 11:03 am

The really stunning thing was how committed the reporters were to only printing the truth. They didn’t just make stuff up, or print any old falsehood the Government told them to, as reporters do in authoritarian countries. The Leveson inquiry unintentionally demonstrates the greatness of the UK press. The reporters went to almost any length (even illegality) to uncover the truth. The stupid and cruel interference with Millie Dowlers phone apart (and her parents were given a huge voluntary settlement for that), the reporters and their bosses should get medals. Their real sin was pandering to a low brow audience and exposing elite foibles

  • Roger Strong
  • September 10th, 2013
  • 3:27 pm

It will certainly be refreshing if we see Tony Abbot roll back the whole PD thing-no doubt the Greens and others of similar ilk will fight a reguard action.

  • Roger Strong
  • September 10th, 2013
  • 3:27 pm

That should read ‘PC thing’…….

  • frednach
  • November 3rd, 2013
  • 3:15 am

It was Justice Homes who once proclaimed that, freedom of speech cannot protect a man who shouts fire across a crowded theatre. It is fundamental principal and tenant of all civilised society that, we the people are endowed by our creator with this alienable right which cannot be compromised or breached through one’s thoughts, intentions, or omissions unless it crosses the Rubicon of common decency or affects another fellow citizen causing nuance for there is no fire without smoke.
In this country we are rightly proud of our freedoms and liberty to express and articulate ideas, thoughts and prayers through the medium of speech in all forms in an ever increasingly demanding society in need of instant and constant information of news worthy. It has brought of the best coverage’s in our nation and history from reporting the first man in the moon to the tragic assassination of JFK in Dallas. Equally, to achieve that end we need journalists of character, integrity and moral purpose guided by a set of ethics that has regards to individual merit and freedoms as they are also so entitled bringing home issues of highest public interest and struggles from reporting of the War in Iraq to the tragic and mysterious death of Dr David Kelly, even today we do not know the full facts and may never know this.
We have witnessed the downfall of an empire and institution in the News of the world brought down by a single lack of regulation by the State with no control of vast media who are pretty much left to self govern through them. This mutuality of interest has lead to all sorts of accusations of self- interest, bias and calling favours from the Prime Minister down to our great institutions as well as the great and the good. It is apparent with the very expose that we have come to question the very nature of privacy, there are some who say there is no such thing as privacy, and those who say we all have a right to a private life when revelations of extra marital or relationship is found wanting be it at a later date with journalists every increasingly being called for sensationalism as opposed to ethics which they would expect to be employed when it comes to their own conducts a la Brooks and Coulson alleged affair reported this week when facing charges over alleged hacking at the Old Bailey.
Not surprisingly, this epidemic of bad taste and violation of decency and standards of reporting lead to a call for a public enquiry lead by Lord Justice Leveson who was given the huge task to the Inquiry to examine the culture, practices and ethics of the press and, in particular, the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians (hey presto!). Lord Justice Leveson was assisted by a panel of six independent assessors with expertise in the key issues that were considered. The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?”, that is the question or the question that is the question in true form.
Yet, look a little closer and see the flaw of this juxtaposition, when have the press been given the moral code and authority to guard all our very liberties they take for granted leading to tragedies such as the fatality of Lady Diana being take from us for no reason or purpose other than to harass to the point of death, was she not entitled to a private and family life free from outside interference to lead her life as she deems fit after a selfless devotion to public life of the highest standards? And if so, do we not expect and trust our so called guardians to do what is best for us, that includes keeping matters under wraps, being a shelter and haven at times of struggle and vulnerability providing us with an umbrella of protection that any decent minded guardian naturally upholds and entrusts in heart and spirit which was sadly lacking that day by the very protectors in pursuit and hunt whatever it took for an exposure and picture; the worst of the worst form of befriending if ever there existed a ‘kinship’ culling with a fallen innocent, angelic heroine in the modern age.
Lord Leveson asks who guards the guardians, if we ever believe in guardianship by the press bit like the fox given custody of chicken. In order to address this issue, we have come to realize that there is no such thing as privacy as we known it through the press reporting’s. yet look a little closer we find in the very fabric scattered regulations and legislation giving prudence to privacy, not least given credence in this latest hacking case where the guardian’s of the guardians were all found wanting of the lowest form of breach of privacy by intercepting mail, phones, records even on missing children to the abject disgrace of concerned parents, it appears freedom of press and freedom to breach knows no bounds or breach, everything and anything goes but as long as they expect the same they have absolute impunity. Hard cases make bad law but hysterical coverage subverts the rule of law. But where you might well ask is the so called rule of law when the very essence of privacy, decency, morality, ethics has been left derelict and in hands of the protectors only to be abused, desecrated and violated time and time again creating a vacuum of not so much moral panic but moral nightmare of the Freddy Kruger proportion.
How do we right this emphatic wrong? The answer to me seems plain and simple, if we approach this from a consensual approach in that, we as civil society hold dear and values our very freedom and privacy as a new born, and then it follows as night follows day we are entitled to the same privileges and protection without question as adults with greater responsibility and trust, for power without responsibility is the prerogative order of the harlot running throughout the ages (Stan Baldwin, PM).
I believe such human wrongs calls for an instrumental and a living embodiment of rules and duties observed by all press, public alike in the form of our obligations as enshrined under the Human Rights Act, incorporating the ECHR. Article 8: The Right to Respect for Private and Family Life (enduring and endurement) stipulates that;
1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of the right to respect for his private and family life
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Of particular note and prominence of late, I draw attention to private life in the form of personal information, correspondence protecting the right to communicate with others, including phone calls, and letters, as well as emails (bugging of phones by police or secret service see Alison Halford case). theholding, use or disclosure of personal information about s
This observation is I believe best suited in the form of guidance in the form of a code of practice and ethics as called for by the Leveson report, with rights deriving to Hohfeld correlative duty to uphold and made accountable through the existing, transparent IPC (public authority being so incorporated) where matters would be adjudicated stemming from a complaint lodged by a person so aggrieved with a panel of independent judges composing from one member of the public, press, police or judiciary like authority. The repercussions would fall into their hands with suitable and proportionate penalty for any breach of the above code from debarring from public office, press for a term of years to financial penalty, supervision, public service unpaid work for those deemed minor. This authority or body cannot be the single source of complaint though a referral process for the most serious of violations must always be reserved to the authority of the state, the police conducting investigations, allegations of criminality in existing laws such as DPA, Computer Misuse Act, POA and so on (which by itself proves that privacy exits and is expected or entitled), damages also being pursued independently through our defamation laws.
In short, to answer the question, who guards the guardians the above proves to be the wrong way round, the answer to the question must always be, we the people, the governed must be by virtue the guardians of our guards and not the guards of our guardians.

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